Welcome to St John's Tower

Views from Inside the Tower courtesy of Vic Gethin

The treble given by the Parish Church Bell Ringers.

The second bell given in memory of Frank and Gertrude Warburton by their children.

The sixth bell given by Miss Elsie M. Coope in memory of her parents George M. and Emily Coope and of her sister Nora P. Coope.

Miss Elsie M. Coope’s grandfather gave the original sixth bell in 1899.

The tenor was given by the Parishioners in 1954 to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

Rev Brian Hartley writes……


We enjoyed reading the items about Joe Thornley and about bell-ringing in the magazine.

It brought to mind an incident which I remember soon after my arrival at St John's. Joe enlisted the help of Derek Gee, Vic Gethin, me and a fourth person whom I can't remember at the moment. He wanted us to go up the tower with him to shift a baffle board that had fallen onto the bells. It was very precariously balanced and Joe was up on top of it not at all worried that he could plunge down the tower if the board moved very slightly. In the end - Derek refused to help him until he came off the top of the board. He was eventually persuaded and the job got done. Joe had no fear of heights at all and I recall another occasion of seeing him almost running along the top of the parapet on the south side of church. I wish him all the best.

 Church Magazine July 2017

The original peal of bells was installed in 1844, and first rung on 2nd February 1845. In 1899, a peel of 8 bells were cast by Thomas Blackbourne of Salisbury, and first rung on september 23rd. As part of the celebrations, the largest bell was filled with beer, though history does not recount how long it took to empty, or whether everyone sobered up before the bell was hung!

In 1954 the famous bell founders John Taylor of Loughborough were commissioned to cast a new peel of 8 bells, the Tenor (largest) of which weighs 12.5cwt, and was dedicated to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

St Johns does not have a regular team of ringers, but the peel is often rung by visiting teams.

Above the ringing chamber is the clock room, with a mechanical clock, displaying on 3 faces, located just above the bells. The clock has been converted to electric winding, as the regular trip up the ladder to wind it was proving to much for the clock winder! The clock mechanism is shown on the right.

At the top of the tower, 25m (82ft) above ground level a St Georges flag flies all year round. The tower provides a fantastic view of Bolton, Little Lever, Bury, Rochdale, Manchester, and even on a clear day Jodrel Bank. However for those tempted, the route up involves three flights of stairs and 4 flights of ladders.

For a slideshow of photos from the top of the tower, click the button - All photos taken by and with thanks to Mr. Derek Gee. 

More photos of the views from the top of the tower, courtesy of Mr Vic Gethin. Click thumbnails for larger images.

In addition,

Joe Thornley writes.......

Reading John Lever’s article about St John’s Clock brought back more happy memories of my time as Bell Tower Captain at St John’s Farnworth and Kearsley Parish Church.

In 1954 I was at a bell ringers meeting, at a church located in what was then called the West Riding of Yorkshire. It was around this time that our bells were being re-cast. At this meeting I had a chance conversation with a fellow ringer, Ronald Dove. I later discovered he was a director of Potts of Leeds, the famous firm of premier clock makers.  I was telling Ronald that I had always wanted to see the 8 bells at St John’s, which were hung in 1899, restored for ringing again. They had been silent for 30 years because of their poor condition.  I told him that the PCC had given me permission to try and persuade individual people to pay for the re-casting of a bell in memory of a loved one.  Seven bells were promised but the tenor, the largest bell, was a bit expensive so the whole parish were working hard to raise money to pay for it.

I remember him asking me what condition our church clock was in and I told him that it was worn out. I told him that it was the original clock that had been installed when the church was built in 1826, and was well over 100 years old.  He told me that they had a ‘none striking’ clock in their workshop that had been taken out of Brighouse Orphanage, which at the time was being converted to a boarding school.  Mr Dove explained that the orphanage had stopped the clock from chiming because it woke the children up.  This got me thinking about the possibility of St John’s acquiring the clock and reinstating the chiming mechanism, would not be too big a hurdle.

When I returned to Farnworth I spoke to members of the PCC, who were only too well aware of the condition of our clock. They were all in agreement that this was an opportunity not to be missed as it would remedy our situation. Local people were always ‘chunnering’ as to how much they had missed the clock, when it stopped – which was a frequent occurrence.  The PCC agreed to the purchase the clock for £230, from Potts, which included installation and conversion back to a chiming clock. It took 3 men a week to install, during which time they stayed at a shop at the bottom of Peel Street, where the proprietor took in lodgers. 


The mechanism was relocated to a lower level in the bell tower – its present location.

Joe Thornley

Former Bell Tower Captain

May 2017

It was in the very early part of the last war (1939 – 45) that I read the book by Dorothy L Sayers “The Nine Taylors”, this book deals with the activities of Bell Ringers in East Anglia and the authoress went specially to live near to “Terrington St Clement”. This is the church and village that features in the book and the main character is Lord Peter Wimsey, the famous detective. It was during this time Mr Churchill, the wonderful wartime Prime Minister, lifted the ban on the ringing of church bells.  They had been intended to be rung in the event of an invasion of our Country.

I was just 15 when I went to St Paul’s Walkden to learn to ring, after reading an appeal in the Farnworth Journal.  St Paul’s has one of the finest rings of 8 bells in the whole country.  England is known as the Ringing Isle, and the art of ringing changes on various numbers of bells is a pure English art.  It has, of course, been taken overseas by English emigrants, to the U.S.A., Africa, Canada and of course Australia. They all follow the British Standard of bell ringing.  Of course, the war was not over by a long way and off I went to serve King and Country as a machine gunner in the Manchester Regiment, of which I was very proud and have such wonderful memories.  During training in England, I was able to ring in Chester Cathedral, St David’s Cathedral and Manchester Cathedral.  Army Service took me to South Wales, Norfolk, Northern Ireland, Sussex, Kent, London, Wiltshire, and for a long time, the island of Malta where I rang on the 6 bells of the lovely Anglican Cathedral of St Paul in Valletta. 

On demob, I went back to St Paul’s Walkden but had always wanted to see the 8 bells at St John’s, Farnworth restored for ringing again. They had been silent for 30 years and were in poor condition.  The PCC gave me permission to try and get individual people to pay for the re-casting of a bell in memory of loved one(s).  I had a motor bike and used to travel around as far as Southport in order to obtain the funds for new bells.  Seven were all promised but the tenor, the largest bell, was a bit expensive and so the whole parish worked hard to raise the money. The bell was cast to commemorate the coronation of our present Queen and this bell is suitably inscribed, as all the other seven bells now in the tower.  

It is a fascinating art being a bell ringer and as one goes about the country and spots a particular tower the question pops up, how many bells?, what weight?, what practice night? etc.

There are also musical hand bells to practice on, both change ringing and tunes.  Some groups are known as bell orchestras and we have visits to Bolton by some of the bell orchestras.  All sorts of people are involved in our exercise in ages from 9 to 90 and the welcome we receive when we visit other towns is very cordial.

It is a calling of ringers that they feel they are sharing in the work of the Church and most of them occupy important offices in parochial life.  We have a central council of church bell ringers composed of representatives from the various county associations, all of whom hold annual meetings with church services, meetings, meals etc.  These are very happy occasions, especially the renewing of old friendships.  The exercise is good for the body and the mind, as the power to ring comes from energy and the ability to ring the intricate methods exercises the brain.   I have rung in over 500 different towers and rung over 1147 peals, comprising of over 5000 changes, with each taking an average of 3 hours to ring.  I intended to go on until I dropped or until I could no longer climb the tower steps.

It was in 2005 that alas! I could no longer carry out my beloved calling/hobby serving God!   Call it what you may but I do miss ringing and the companionship it affords. 

Thanks be to God.

This Article, by Joe Thorney, appeared in the June 2017 issue of St John’s Magazine

A view looking west down Church Street from the top of St John's tower.

The clock mechanism inside the tower. 

The story of our bells

-by Joe Thornley

Please click on the picture below to download and read the full story of our bells. 

Many people are aware that Rivington Pike is part of a chain of beacons that were lit to warn of the approaching Armada in 1588. It is not so widely known, however, that St John’s church tower has also been used as a signal station in the past, though not to warn against oncoming Spanish ships.

In 1842 manufacturers had imposed heavy wage cuts on workers. Much of Britain was in the grip of a general strike. In Lancashire, mobs of angry workers went from mill to mill removing the plugs from the boilers, disabling the steam engines which powered the mills. Farnworth did not escape the Plug Drawing Riots, so a committee was formed which met daily at the Bowling Green Hotel on Market Street and a strategy was quickly put in place in case the rioters should return. All the gentlemen of Farnworth were sworn in as special constables, with 330 truncheons being issued to them.

The committee was keen that the local military, headquartered at the Swan Hotel in Bolton, should be able to help the special constables deal with any rioters. So it was decided to appoint four watchmen to stand on top of St John’s Church tower, two at a time for 6 hour shifts, to provide a watch day and night. If rioters were seen, then the watchmen at St John’s were to raise the flag atop the tower. On seeing the flag, men stationed at Bull Hill near Moses Gate would also raise their flag. The Bull Hill flag would alert men stationed at Hamer’s Bleachworks in Burnden to raise their flag. The plan then was that the Burnden flag would be seen by spotters on the old Bolton Parish Church tower, who could inform  the soldiers based at the nearby Swan Hotel that they must immediately ride to Farnworth, where there first task would be to meet with the committee to decide how best to tackle the rioters.

All did not go to plan, however. On a summer evening when Mr Hamer was out to dinner, his men decided it would be a good joke to hoist the flag up the flagstaff on top of the bleachworks. The flag was seen by the watchers at Bolton Parish Church and they duly dispatched the soldiers, who galloped to Farnworth with great speed to meet the committee at the Bowling Green Hotel. Unfortunately, however, because they had no idea that a signal had been sent, the committee were nowhere to be seen. When the truth of the matter emerged, it is understood that to say the men at Hamer’s bleachworks responsible, got the severest telling off of their careers, would be the understatement of the year!


Source for this article – B T Barton ‘ History of Farnworth and Kersley’ 1887

It brought back great memories reading the article ‘The Watchmen of St John’s Tower’ by John Lever, not least as I taught John to bell ring nearly 50 years ago.

In 1993, just before I retired, I was working in Manchester City Centre. I was walking along Deansgate when I noticed a number of plastic flag staffs at the front of Kendal Milne’s Department Store.  The staffs, which were set at an angle along the frontage of the store, were being taken down.  I thought to myself – ‘one of those staffs would be an ideal replacement for the rotten and damaged one at St John’s Church’. I walked into the store and asked to see the manager.  He was very approachable and listened intently to what I had to say about St John’s Church and was sympathetic to my request for the store to donate a flag staff to St John’s. I waited in the store as he made a few enquiries.  When he came back he told me that the church could have a flag staff and he would make arrangements for it to be delivered. I set off for home and by the time I had returned to Farnworth it had been delivered and was on top of the new church yard wall.

When I next met Derek Gee, we arranged a day to climb the tower and replace the old and rotten staff with our ‘new to us’ Kendal Milne plastic staff. We took the old one down and were just putting the new flag staff up when the rope fell out. Well the only course of action was that I had to climb up the staff to re-thread the rope. Oh happy days and happy memories.

Joe Thornley

Former Bell Tower Captain

April 2017

Clock Face

The following photographs were taken on 13th June 2008, when work began to give the church clock a new 'Weatherproof Face'.


A Photograph from Bolton News

Monday 18th December 2017


The man in the centre of the photograph is Joe Thornley, who at the time was St John’s Bell Tower Captain.

Joe took a week of his holiday leave, from work, to help remove the bells.

He later took two further weeks leave to help install the new metal frame and re-cast bells.

Please click on the image below to see a larger version

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